Forgive us for saying it, but there seems something surreal and so tragically middle American about the scenes from Muskingham County Farm in Ohio. Terry Tompson shot himself, probably releasing his own animals, and so began a town lock down in Zanesville, and the shooting of 49 out of 56 ‘exotic’ creatures, including 18 tigers, lions, cheetahs and leopards. To see their bodies lying there in the mud, not denying some vital defence in responding to the immediate danger to people, is rather tragic. Somehow symbolic of how we have lost touch so incredibly badly.
There was something in that American ‘right’ to big pets, or to big guns, the official gun response too, that seems to us to have resulted in the whole thing. There is a clear personal tragedy there, or madness, but how did it go so unregulated, and was it impossible more animals might have been darted instead? Perhaps that is unfair, but the big voiced official response, ‘people above all else’, almost a cowboy response, may be what defines us, but is also not particularly inspiring either.
Talking of cowboys, how had Terry Tompson so stepped beyond the ‘normal’ himself? The man had been in prison, lost his wife, but what he was trying to do with those creatures in Ohio and who else was involved? It speaks of isolation and a failure to bridge the gulf between the wild and the human. But there is some great blandishment also involved and for us it relates to culture and especially the catch all, that catches nothing, in that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which had investigated him, that is so bleak too, really. It is that classic American dilemma as well, when faced with its own visceral, deeply instinctive sense of frontier still, the ‘right’ to the ‘wild’, in both defence and longing. But this was not wild Ohio, or man in harmony with his own biosphere, but the ‘exotic’ relocated with a sense of the big, wild west. So lions, leopards and tigers, endangered, and wildly out of their real habit, lie dead in the American mud, next to bears, monkeys and wolves. A monkey with Herpes is still on the loose! Human madness and sadness is as big as the potential nastiness in wild nature, except we think about it, and it is part of our own agony, both to be free and instinctive ourselves, and to understand and protect. “Tiger, Tiger, burning bright, in the forest of the night, what immortal hand or eye can frame thy fearful symmetry?‘ But of course, in Blake’s poem, the symmetry is all of nature’s, and most especially man’s.